In this novel, Marge Piercy examines the search for the deep feminine by three women whose destinies intersect. Leila is a middle-aged Boston college professor who is thrown off balance by her husband's infidelity and the death of her best friend.
She has time to ponder what this all means after beginning a new book about Becky, an ambitious young woman accused of murdering her husband. This poor fisherman's daughter has bought into the lie that external beauty, possessions, and money provide the keys to happiness. In her drivenness Becky has broken all the rules in order to get what she wants.
Mary, the third woman in the story, is a 61-year-old housekeeper who works for Leila and several others. Unbeknownst to them, Mary is homeless. Despite the fact that she was once a traditional wife and mother, her resources and luck have run out. She varies her sleeping arrangements from the empty homes of her employers to airline terminals and back alleys.
The deep longings of these three women have led them to seek validation and safety outside themselves in men, in the seductions of the marketplace, and in the dream of a family which will provide for them in the future. Leila is the first to realize that she must save her own soul and that no one else can do it for her. Part of her reclamation project is helping Mary get back on her feet.
Simone Weil once wrote: "I have a sort of inner certainty that there is within me a deposit of pure gold which must be handed out. It is indivisible and whatever is added to it becomes part of it." In Marge Piercy's The Longings of Women, Leila finds the rich lode of gold of her inner life and starts afresh. It is a story that many women will identify with and rejoice in.